Someone forgot to tell Ryker Ringstad that he was a patient at Seattle Children’s, not a fundraiser.
A happy, gregarious kiddo with blonde hair and a playful spirit, Ryker bounces around his room at the hospital. He climbs on his dad, Paul, and mother, Sarah. Watching him move, you’d never guess that he just underwent his 14th procedure for the lymphatic anomalies in his tongue and neck. Wearing a Seahawks t-shirt, I ask him who his favorite player is and without missing a beat, he answers “Russell Wilson!”
Ryker hasn’t had an easy path, but as his mother says, “he is one strong, resilient little man.”
He had to be strong in order to make it through the first few years of his life. His experience with being admitted to the hospital as an inpatient goes all the way back to when he was just 7 days-old. After swelling in his neck and throat caused him to struggle to breathe, Paul and Sarah rushed him to Seattle Children’s. He survived a code blue situation where he nearly lost his life. Ryker spent seven days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) unable to breathe on his own.
The early days of Ryker’s life
The next few months were a struggle. He was fed a combination of milk and formula every two hours to try to boost his weight, but it didn’t work. Ryker spent 42 days in the hospital after getting a tracheotomy to help him breathe when he was 3 1/2 months-old. The day he went home he had finally gotten back to his birth weight. Once home, he required round the clock care by his parents and a team of home health nurses.
That was the pattern that the Ringstad’s followed for two and a half years. Those years included harrowing events like the time his tracheotomy tube fell out and Sarah was home alone with Ryker. Her quick thinking and calm action likely saved his life.
At 2 1/2 years-old, Dr. Scott Manning, program director, otolaryngology and vascular anomalies at Seattle Children’s, was able to help Ryker get rid of the tracheotomy. That was just the beginning of Ryker’s journey.
To try and shrink the lymphatic malformations in his tongue and neck, Manning and his team have performed various treatments including tongue reduction surgeries and injections of solutions that shrink the sponge-like collections of abnormal vessels, both of which can be painful. Most of us would have been focused on our own hardships, but throughout it all, Ryker was thinking about other people.
“Ryker is a smart, enthusiastic advocate of making medicine better through research. He is a joy to have as a patient and a friend,” said Manning.
Giving back came naturally
On Easter when Paul and Ryker went to the hardware store to get materials to make a basket, Paul asked his then 5 year-old son what he wanted to do with the box. Ryker said he was going to put money in it. When asked what he was going to use the money for, his answer was simple and profound: “To help kids like me.”
“He just has a heart for others,” Sarah said. “He cares about everyone else. He’s very smart and wants to know why everything does what it does. The only time he gets shy is when he is asked to talk about himself.”
If they would have let him, Ryker would’ve gone through his whole neighborhood soliciting donations, but his parents limited his fundraising to family members. When he felt like he had enough, he brought the money into Seattle Children’s and proudly announced he was donating his plastic bag full of coins and dollars to vascular anomalies research.
“Our team is inspired by and thankful for generous patients like Ryker who help us continue our mission to help children with vascular anomalies. He is a true hero,” Dr. Markus Boos said of Ryker’s efforts.
Already fundraising again his mother has been hand-rolling all the coins he has collected which total over $172. When I ask Ryker what his goal is, he says “a hundred dollars.” His father tells him he’s already got that much and Ryker instantly changes his answer and says, “Okay, a thousand.” His parents smile and laugh.
A normal kid with abnormal generosity
Meeting Ryker at this stage in his life, one would assume he’s like every other kid; he loves superheroes with Captain America being his favorite, likes going to the zoo, and even played in the snow on Mt. Rainier with his younger brother. It’s what is inside Ryker that makes him so unique. He has an empathy and benevolence that cannot be taught, let alone to someone who is supposed to be the patient dealing with his or her own issues.
“He is really helping to change how we treat and understand vascular anomalies. His gift is inspiring,” said Dr. Randall Bly.
Though his medical journey continues, one can only expect more great things from Ryker. For now, he’s content to set an example for others that little gift can go a long way.